Big Data for poverty measurement: insights from a scoping review

Michaëla Stubbers and Nathalie Holvoet
Discussion paper 2020.03

This research presents a scoping review of 53 systematically selected studies that employ Big Data to measure and monitor poverty concepts. The primary aim of the review is to explore if and how Big Data can be used as a replacement or complementary to national and international statistics to identify, measure, and monitor poverty, economic development and inequality on a macro level. The analysis reveals that (1) the relevance of the field so far is driven by data availability, (2) researchers from different fields are involved as data types and analytics employed stem from various research domains, however, researchers from the global south are underrepresented, (3) the main data types used are Call Detail Records (CDR) and satellite image data while night-light is frequently associated with economic development, (4) the choice for certain data types is based on the hypothesis that the manifestations of poverty and development leave traces that are captured by Big Data sources (5) Big Data techniques are so far mainly applied for feature extraction while classical statistical techniques are preferred for analysis.
With this in mind, the review highlights challenges and opportunities of using Big Data for development statistics and briefly discusses the implications for monitoring and evaluation showing that it is highly unlikely that Big Data statistics will replace traditionally generated development data any time soon. Many barriers need to be overcome, including some technical challenges, stability and sustainability issues as well as institutional and legal aspects. In the meantime, Big Data offers undoubtfully a major opportunity to play a role to improve accuracy, timeliness and relevance of socio-economic indicators especially where no data is available, or where quality is highly disputable.

Framing street vending in Guayaquil – Ecuador: from hegemonic discourses to a rights-based approach

Lisette Villacres and Sara Geenen
Discussion paper 2020.02

Urban renewal policies that aim to “beautify” public space have had unequal impacts, particularly in terms of restricting access to public space for some groups considered to be “undesirable” in the new urban landscape. This paper concentrates on one such group, informal street vendors, who rely on access to the streets for generating an income, and who have been banned or in any case restricted from doing so. In several Latin American cities, street vending is a very important part of the informal economy. We present the case of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second most populated city, which has undergone a radical urban renewal and gentrification process during the four tenures of former mayor Jaime Nebot (2000 to 2019). This has pushed street vendors further into peripheral areas of the city, and into informality, and has sparked ongoing
conflict between street vendors and municipal authorities. Based on a discourse analysis and an analysis of national and local policies and regulations regarding street vending, we argue that street vending has been framed, consecutively, as a symbol of a chaotic past, as an expression of the right to work, and as entrepreneurship. These discourses translated into an array of policies that overall do not allow street vendors to successfully claim their access to public space. For that reason, this paper considers that the right to the city approach could open more transformational political avenues to enhance vendors’ claims over public space by acknowledging two rights: the right to appropriate public space and the right to participate in public decisions in the city.

Abstracting Congolese forests: mappings, representational narratives, and the production of the plantation space under REDD+

Catherine Windey
Discussion paper 2020.01

Inspired by Science and Technology Studies and using findings from a multi-level field research in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this paper analyses the construction and use of controlling geospatial-driven narratives and seemingly neutral cartographic representations of Congolese forests for producing green economic landscapes under REDD+ process. I first show how simplified satellite-based maps, in a messy socio-political context, perform as neutral actants for identifying culprits and assigning blame, leading to a uniform ‘national consensus’ on community-induced threats to nature while letting industrial extraction off the hook. This understanding says very little about socio-political and power relations that shape forest use and change, and virtually ignores local knowledge, thinking and living models. Local communities’ subjectivities and livelihoods are carefully framed into homogeneous ‘poor unproductive but harmful shifting cultivators’, a figure rooted in colonial discourses which permeates people’s imaginaries of forests and of what is possible, plausible and desirable. Despite purported inclusive REDD+ strategies, this framing legitimizes geospatial control over local socio-spatial practices and the production of a monoculture of productivity and bounded rationalized space, materialized in the privately-held and extractive plantation or concession to the detriment of communities’ sovereignty. This model, I show, produces standardized subjectivities of the ‘socially responsible green company’ and the ‘enviropreneurial commodity petty producer/labourer’ integrated in international markets, leaving social and environmental injustices totally unaddressed. My findings emphasize the interlinkages between epistemic and material dispossession and shed light on ongoing processes of slow violence that have long term socio-ecological consequences.